Cover image for I have seen the world begin
I have seen the world begin
Jensen, Carsten.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Jeg har set verden begynde. English
Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt, [2002]

Physical Description:
337 pages : maps ; 24 cm
General Note:
Originally published: London :Harvill Press, 2000.
Personal Subject:
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DS10 .J4713 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



When Carsten Jensen set out by train from Denmark on a journey to the East, he expected to find lands of rich history and culture, and people
undergoing radical change at the end of the twentieth century. In this
illuminating narrative of his travels, there is this and much, much more.
Fusing social commentary and history with vibrant descriptions of people and places, Jensen brilliantly evokes the sights, sounds, and smells of these venerable civilizations. He examines the reverberations of the Tiananmen Square massacre in China, always attuned to the restless air of expectancy in the country, but also finds time for remote concerts of ancient Chinese music. He renders the pervasive sense of destruction, despair, and loss in Cambodia with particular sensitivity, wonderingat the specter of death that still hovers over the landscape. And it is in Vietnam, with its palpable
legacy of colonialism and war, that Jensen ultimately loses himself in an extraordinary love affair.
At once compelling and richly informative, I Have Seen the World Begin is an incredible journey.

Author Notes

Born in 1952, Carsten Jensen made his name as a columnist and literary critic for a Copenhagen daily newspaper. During the 1990s he had several major press assignments around the world, including Yugoslavia and several cities in Asia. The author of six collections of essays and two novels, Jensen lives in Copenhagen

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

First published in Danish in 1996, this poetic, moving travelogue transcends its genre. It recounts the author's "journey through countries which in recent years have been the scene of cataclysmic events." Here we see China after the massacre at Tiananmen Square; Vietnam still struggling to recover from the civil war two decades earlier; and Cambodia more than a decade after the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge regime. Although the author claims his book is neither historical nor political, it is actually both, a political and historical book shaped by the hands of an artist. The smooth and colloquial English translation achieves both eloquence and elegance, qualities one assumes were evident in Jensen's original prose. The precise portraits of the people Jensen met and the moving word-pictures of the things he saw (some of them hauntingly beautiful, others horrifyingly ugly) are unforgettable. The book has been compared to the travel writing of Bruce Chatwin, and it features a glowing recommendation from Paul Theroux, but in fact it resembles the work of neither of them. It is unique unto itself, and it is a must-read for those who appreciate travel writing with a sociopolitical edge. --David Pitt

Publisher's Weekly Review

That Danish journalist and essayist Jensen witnessed something momentous and formative on his journey through southeast Asia is clear, but the declarative force of his title belies the gradual, continuous nature of his discovery. Where and when did the beginning of the world make itself visible to this lonely traveler? On Nanjing Dong Lu, where brash consumerism explodes in pyrotechnics on the eve of the New Year, prompting Jensen to exclaim, "China is shedding its skin"? Or was it in Udang, the former capital of a kingdom now known as Cambodia, where amid the rubble of a wasted monastery he finds a grove of trees, carefully tended and labeled with Latin species names? Or in Vietnam, where erotic women have forgiven their past sorrows and whose "process of forgetting... was the sandpaper with which they refined an outlook on life"? In all these places and others, Jensen describes a near mystical experience in language so luminous one wonders whether to praise the author or the translator. Often, the headiness of his reactions threatens to discredit him he confesses that for him Asia represents a "dream." A very Western political view also compromises his analogies he views modern China almost exclusively through the lens of Tiananmen Square; Cambodians are uniformly asked about life before 1979, during the period of Pol Pot's nightmarish "geno-suicide"; and he thinks of Vietnam and war as inseparable, "as though that were the country's name." Still, Jensen's solemnity and spirituality distinguish him from most Western observers, as does his easy turn of anecdote into metaphor. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This view of Asia by a Danish writer provides a different perspective not only on the cultures and histories of China, Cambodia, and Vietnam but also on the role of U.S. foreign policy and politics in these regions. Jensen is a columnist and literary critic for a Copenhagen daily and won Denmark's Golden Laurels Award (best book of the year) for this work. In recounting his journeys through this trio of troubled nations, he combines personal observations, interactions, historical perspectives, political analysis, and self-examination. Jensen finds both charm and calamity in China. Cambodia is a distressing experience, while Vietnam provides him with a surprising liberation from the bonds of his own personality. Jensen writes thoughtfully, even philosophically, as he probes for the motivations behind the actions of the societies he encounters. For instance, he speculates at length on the essence of evil as manifested by the Khmer Rouge. The United States is taken to task for its actions in Southeast Asia on several occasions, and readers should be prepared (in light of our recent patriotic fervor) for some negative remarks. However, traveling in the company of this articulate Dane results in a unique and enjoyable armchair journey. Recommended for all libraries. Janet Ross, formerly with Sparks Branch Lib., NV (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Chinap. ix
Cambodiap. x
Vietnamp. xi
A Brief Prologuep. 1
China: The Highest Mountains
Days of Glassp. 5
A Man with a Shopping Bagp. 12
Night on the Shanghai Expressp. 17
An Unbelievable Number of Peoplep. 20
The Joy of the Stuntedp. 23
A Clown in the Arena of Wordsp. 25
Big Bangp. 28
The Long Riverp. 34
A Fight in Chinesep. 43
Nature's Stop Signp. 48
The Artistry of Violationp. 54
Upwards, Ever Upwardsp. 62
A Shameful Rebelp. 66
In the Heart of Civilizationp. 83
Partisans of Lovep. 85
The Music of Old Menp. 92
The Biggest Tiger in the Worldp. 95
As the Wall in Space, So the Book Pyre in Timep. 101
Out of the Clay Pitp. 105
A Blessing for the Travellerp. 107
Cambodia: Hour of the Tiger
Invention of a Nationp. 111
A Scar on the Landscapep. 123
Propaganda with a Stammerp. 132
S-21: Where the World Vanishesp. 134
The Children's Revolutionp. 139
With Greetings from a Treep. 149
Confession of a Fratricidep. 154
Black Spaces on the Globep. 160
River Patrol to the End of the Earthp. 180
Pure Evilp. 193
The Woman under the Rain Treep. 198
Vietnam: Arrival on Earth
Motorized Flowersp. 203
A Chink in the Wallp. 205
Victor Hugo and the Coconut Monkp. 220
Man is Like a Bamboo Shootp. 227
Would I Could Own the Face of Eternityp. 247
Land of Womenp. 254
A Garden Cityp. 259
Ask the Immortals about the Meaning of Lifep. 265
The Snow behind Thien Mu Pagodap. 272
The Eunuchs' Graveyardp. 276
Remote-controlled Death and Murderous Innocencep. 282
Scent of Spring and Harvest Moonp. 293
Intimacies between Strangersp. 302
Embroidery is their Native Landp. 313
The Simplest of all Giftsp. 322
Parting is the Little Sister of Deathp. 333